Complete Beginners Guide to Online Mahjong - Part 3 - Playan

That was all you need to know to play, really. For further and more detailed information you can check out detailed rulebooks and stuff.

The thing is, although we  do love to play and don't mind sharing what we know, there's a huge gap in skill between us and real or imaginary puros you may find online. When you get down to it, we're just random casuals running a blag. We simply don't have the confidence and authority to dish out opinions and have them count for something. It's all different here, though. If you've made it this far, you're probably a beginner who can barely play, and won't be able to tell us that we suck. If someone does I'll just say "I see you like reading complete beginners guides" and create an awkward silence.

So here's something I've always wanted to do - actual play demonstrations.

I asked a few friends to get in on this together, so hopefully you will be able to check out a few different styles and ways of thought. Even though you're a beginner, keep in mind it's less "this is how you should play" and more "this is how we do it". Here's mine.


This hand looks pretty decent. Dora is 3p, and if I'm lucky I can snag it off the left player or wait on it, for a 3900 hand of hatsu, red 5, dora. However I won't mind just a quick bread-and-butter 2000 win, especially if I can get it off fast.


Pon the hatsu, clearing out the terminals. Drew 1s and decided to clear out the 5p here. Not sure if I'm doing it  right. If I can make one tile stick to this mess I'll be just waiting for a pair.


North player opposite me looks like he's going for a normal fast hand, with or without dora. It's hard to say  anything about the dealer but when 5m is the worst tile in his hand, I don't really like the look of things.
Dealer chis a 4p showing a dora, while I draw useless tiles, deciding not to kan the hatsu because even though my hand is 1 shan ten, tenpai feels so far away.


West riichis and I defend by dealing absolutely safe tiles until someone deals in for a mangan.


Second hand and I'm the dealer. Here's one of the minor turning points. I could go for seven pairs, already having  four pairs in my hand early. Or I could continue and go for a probably-open sanshoku, while keeping the lone east  as a hedge thing in case even that fails. Maybe I should have chi'd the 1p first turn, but I think that's way too  pessimistic. In hindsight I probably should have gone for a desperate chanta, even though I hate those kinds of  hands.


Then again it's impossible to predict how many terminals you will draw subsequently.


Riichi and immediate tsumo for mangan again.


So here I am with 21000 points, being all kinds of behind. This hand looks nice normally, but riichi + yakuhai  isn't gonna accomplish anything. I just need to draw some more man tiles...

Well shit.

This deal is kind of neutral-ish. I mean, I have to cut something, right? I probably have some good draws ahead of  me. I hope to see what the dealer will do. If he decides to ignore the riichi, that pushes me towards folding.  There's loads of dora unaccounted for, and I hope one of the two leaders deals into each other, so I can steal  second place. If he folds I will wait and see if I get some good tiles to continue with my hand. Even so, I am gonna  fold like 80-95% of the time here. It's way too dangerous holding a load of danger tiles, with 3 dora indicators  showing, being nowhere close to tenpai, and miles away from my ideal hand.

Dealer decides to ignore the riichi, so I just fold.

A mangan tsumo. The only bright spot is that it pulls me closer to the dealer score-wise, although not as much as I  had hoped. Uradora 4 or something would have been great.

All last and it's not looking great at all. Even something like pinfu riichi tsumo isn't going to get me anywhere.  Not to mention it would be textbook play to defend against the riichi and strand me in 3rd. Now a mangan tsumo or  ron on the guy in second is the only way out to second place. First place is virtually unassailable.

Hon itsu with hatsu and dora 1s was a distant option but with the first row gone and getting nowhere, I had to dump  the hatsu and a subsequent haku.

Looking at this excuse for a hand and desperately searching for a mangan tsumo,  only one yaku remains in my list of possibilities.

San an kou.

Riichi tsumo san an kou. If it's a tsumo, it has to be san an kou. All I need to do is draw a 4s or 5s for the  insta-riichi. I'll even pass on a ron if I have to. There's really no point winning a small hand to keep myself in  third place, unless the guy in last is making a move, and he doesn't even look alive.

Oh come on.

Riichi ippatsu tsumo would have been nice, and I'd have gladly taken the uradora gamble. Still, I have no regrets.  This is the only path.

And now here is where I make a rather bad mistake, I think.

I decide to cut the pair of 4m, hoping to draw a dora for a single wait. In hindsight I would have preferred to cut  9s, since they are all showing. leaving 45678s, with any one of 4578s giving me the san an kou riichi.

However we will never know what might have been, because dealer makes a small tsumo here to end it.

I'd like to talk about some things I may have touched on, or you may have noticed in my play during the match.

First off, I placed a great priority on considering the point totals, even cutting tiles from a complete winning  hand when it wouldn't have gotten me anywhere. I don't mind advocating this style of play to you because I'm  imagining most of you will go on to play casual matches. It's more enjoyable in a casual match if everyone plays to  improve on their placing, and ultimately for first place if at all possible. It's extremely common to see people  playing to make random hands without any purpose, and while that may be your cup of tea, I find it more enjoyable  to know I am actually playing the entire game, instead of a small part of it.

In a really tight high level grindfest I would have taken the win right there, since the chances of even getting at  second place were extremely slim, there's a good chance of dealing into a hand post-riichi, and who knows what the  guy in last is cooking up. When you are grinding for tenhou dan levels, 3rd place is infinitely better than last,  especially behind a solid deficit. But since not much is at stake, what's wrong with clinging on to the slimmest of  hopes? If I actually did manage it, it would have made my day, and at the end of the day isn't that what we all  play for?

Secondly, the stress on defense. Sure, I could have forged ahead with any of those hands. But when you see me  struggling in the last hand, imagine if I had lost 1000 or 2000 points somewhere earlier. Let's say I dropped 2000  points to the guy in second place. He would be at 29000, and I would be at 17000, and even a mangan tsumo would  have been useless then. Small point differences can go a long way. Now imagine dealing in for 8000. When you lose  8000 points, you are not behind one player by 8000, you are behind everyone else by at least 8000. Think of the  efforts you will need to overcome that deficit.

The thing about defense is when you are facing a riichi or obvious tenpai, you generally are holding one or more  dangerous tiles that will have to pass if you are ever going to get to tenpai. Let's even say that all other  players are folding, which is rarely ever the case - in later stages it's perfectly normal for multiple players to  be in tenpai. You need to risk facing all kinds of trouble in later stages to even reach there, to get a, say, 50- 50 chance at making your hand. Now imagine your hand is worth 2000 points. Yeah, I'd just forget it. I don't even  mind taking apart small tenpai hands to avoid dealing in. The risk is just not worth it.

Also notice I don't try to 'read' what tiles my opponents are waiting on, based on their discard patterns, besides  obvious signs of course, like single suit hands or possibly waiting on a yakuhai for atozuke (for the only yaku,  like when someone pons 999p). That kind of magical hand reading is either nonsense or higher level than I will ever  be. Just play solidly and discard 100% safe tiles. To think you can mystically divine what tiles people are waiting  on is nothing but pure vanity and will cost you loads of matches. There is a reason why 'nailing waits' is a running joke on the channel.

Thirdly, I try my best to keep tabs on all my opponents as a matter of course. Some things are really obvious, like  making single suit hands, a pon on the dora, kokushi or chanta-type hands, and most important of all, declaring  riichi. If you don't care what the other players are doing, you might as well be playing a single-player game.

I've played enough to not care too much about winning and losing. As long as you play well and keep a good  mindset without going crazy, the wins will come naturally, and more importantly, you will feel you have earned  every one of them yourself.

TACOS: Ron^5 is a nice guy, and has been placing impressively in European tournaments of late. I had to badger him a lot into getting what I wanted, so thanks for the thingy! He grinds like 20 matches a day and has managed to internalize his thought process, so you'll be getting more of the straight up action without me going on about not dealing into hands.

Ok, so mou asked me some others to contribute to a blag post of his, which is intended to guide beginners (who know the basic rules apparently) to a bit more advanced play. Being a nice guy and all, I immediately told him I’ll do it, SOON. Well, soon is pretty relative, so I ended up postponing this for quite some time, telling me and mou that I’ll get around for it one day.
Anyways, here it is but I doubt I really qualify for this, as I’m pretty bad-ish myself. I’ll give it a try though, please bear with me.

What I’m going to do is pick a random replay from my tenhou dan room games and analyze my own (maybe of my opponents too) play, mistakes, decisions and the reasoning behind it, at least as far as I can remember for the critical situations.

The replay I’m going to use is:

Ok, this apparently doesn’t look too bad for a dan room game, no R1800+ guy around in this hanchan/tonnansen on normal speed.

First round starting hand. 5 shanten, not so good.
I can’t really expect anything from this hand, if I’m really lucky, I might get to chi myself a junchan, sanshoku, dora, though it’s pretty unlikely.

South riichis, his discards don’t really give an idea of what he could be going for, so it’s pretty useless trying to analyze them or something. North riichis on the same turn. His and the Dealer’s discards make souzu appear really dangerous, so these are a no-go. Plain betaori is the way to go here.

As expected.

Next hand looks better, but is still 4 shanten.

Now this was a decision between 3s and 4m, but in retrospect, it’s probably really pointless to ponder about it. You will discard the other anyways the next turn you draw a 47s or 58m. In the end, I chose 3s.

WELL, what now? One could be greedy and get rid of 56s in order to get possibly 2 (+red) dora, but that would make souzu appear extremely safe once I riichi.

Derp. I really don’t see the point in someone going for such a hand at this stage of the game, but whatever.

Finally, my dealer turn. And only 3 shanten.

Dealing the 9m from the pair earlier when I got a 7m, "because I already have enough possible pairs" backfired. From here on, my game gets utter shit tier.

Dealing 4p probably only because it was isolated and I had no idea what to do with those sou tiles.

Follow up riichi with a possible riichi, pinfu tanyao iipeikou. Any other han from an ura dora or tsumo makes this mangan. If I wanted to play it really safe, I could have discarded 7s too, no pinfu though.
In retrospect, I should not have riichi’d. The most important thing here was to keep my dealer spot and possibly hinder south from gaining a larger lead. If I kept a damaten, someone in betaori might have dropped a 2m for a nice 5800 hand.

Round ends with south solidifying his lead.

Now this hand just cries out for ponpalace and going for an open tanyao. Thus, getting rid of otakaze should be the first thing to do.

It was ruined before I could call any tiles though. I didn’t try to betaori either because the outlook of the hand looked just too tempting to me.

That concludes the east round, with me being in third place, with quite a bit behind second and third, and only a 4000 points ahead of last.

My priority here is to prevent the dealer from winning, since he can easily top me with a tsumo or 3-4 han ron. Getting ready to pon the hatsu anytime.

No idea why I did that. Pointless.

Didn’t really get into tenpai here, but luckily the dealer in last dealt into a hand. Which also meant chances for second became pretty slim.

Kokushi, anyone? Dealer turn again, but with a haipai at 4 shanten. It's a bit tempting to risk a hon itsu too.

I’d normally have discarded the ton here or a few turns before, but as it’s clear that north (and west) is going for a chin/hon itsu, dealing the dora shonpai or 6s here is suicide.

My fear was baseless though. West probably wanted to prevent me from scoring as dealer as well as I did before.

With this hand and the scores, it’s best to just go for a fast hand to secure third. Getting last means -75 pt here.

Now this doesn’t leave any room except betaori’ing. Chun is by no means anything near a safe deal here though.

Ok, so this replay was pretty uneventful, adding to my already dry explanations, but whatever.

There wasn’t much I could do in this game, my starting hands weren’t really good, I was forced to defend too often and did a few mistakes myself too. In the end, I didnt even win a single hand.

I guess the only thing to learn from this for (tenhou) beginners is that you should not force yourself to win hands, but have patience and secure a place that is not fourth.
At 3 dan, a last place in a hanchan drags your stats and pt way to the next dan level down quite a bit.

Owner of the most popular outgoing link from - Swedish riichi player hates Dutch players, drob is a guy known for rants, and... rants. He's been doing pretty decently in recent European tournaments so maybe the "mediocre" got removed. Also he doesn't really hate Dutch players. I think.

I'm drob, you might know me from either posting stuff here on or bothering the mahjong community over at 0x23mahjong. Chances are you don't, though. That's okay.

TACOS asked me to write a sort of play demonstration. Said it'd be okay since the audience would just be new players and they wouldn't be able to judge me. I don't worry too much about that - I judge myself a lot more than I judge others (and I judge others a LOT). I'll still write a small disclaimer at the end though.

Let's begin!
drob guide hand 1
Well, it's not the best start ever. Sanshoku seems like an out-of-reach option, and I can't say I'm seeing much possibility of a decent pinfu hand either. Possible, but not probable. Getting rid of that east as soon as possible is probably a good idea. The chances of me drawing another east are slim, and the chances of someone else having a pair in their starting hand are also slim. This is a tactic that can and will backfire at times though, and you seriously shouldn't even consider it if East happens to be dora. In fact, I'd advise against discarding any tile that can give someone yakuhai if it also happens to be the dora.

drob playan 2 A few moves in, and it's not gotten anywhere. I had an early idea about chanta, but that looks unlikely. Also the 6688s could, however unlikely, be the start of an iipeikou. To be perfectly honest, though, this isn't a hand that I'll pursue like a madman, because it's not worth it. drob guide 3 A few tiles later, South declares riichi and I start playing defensively. There's still a lot left of the game, and my hand is nowhere near completion. The hand ends with South in tenpai, waiting for 14s. drob guide 4 Well, it doesn't start out good, that's for sure. Getting rid of those pesky honours first; there are various schools of thought on how to do that, or if you even should. Personally it depends a bit on my mood, how my situation is, and how my opponents have been playing up till now. drob guide 5 It's definitely looking better. I'm waiting on loads of different tiles, with the optimal being 3s. It's getting a bit late in the hand though, with half of it being over already, and my opponents are getting closer to finishing their hands too. The fact that 1m is gone already is bugging me, so a little while later I get rid of 3m, only to draw 4m next. That's okay though, I'm getting used to that. drob guide 6 Well, that didn't come as a major surprise. From all the terminals he's discarded, he's probably aiming for tanyao and any number of dora. It's fairly obvious that the pin tiles are dangerous, given how few have been discarded (across all discard ponds, not just East's). I'm too far away from an actual hand, so defence it is.

A few tiles later, East self-draws a tanyao, dora 2 for 6,000 points total - waiting on 258p.

drob guide 7 Well this looks decent: the West pair can be used in pinfu, and the 234578s could be the start of an Itsu. When it comes to Itsu and Sanshoku, I'm definitely hesitant to opening my hands too early. If at all, I tend to open them finishing the last part of either yaku, not before that - else people will definitely see what you're up to.

East starts by discarding 1s. Well cocks. I let it pass; opening my hand on the first tile of the game is a tad bit much for me.

I'm rewarded for my patience; this is looking good. drob guide 9 Actually, it's looking decent. I now have a choice between getting rid of the red dragon or the 4p, or the 8s. I decide to get rid of the red dragon, hoping to get myself a pinfu on top of the itsu. East immediately calls it. drob guide 10 Well, here we go. Getting rid of 8s and NOT declaring riichi. Why, you might wonder? Well, look at it this way: itsu + riichi is worth 3 han; it'd be worth 3,900 or 5,200 (depending on if it's a self-draw or not). However, itsu+pinfu is the same value (if I should draw 3 or 7p), and together with riichi it'd be 5,900 or 7,700 points. If I draw 3p I would also be in a position to connect to the dora for more delicious points, but it's not something I'll pursue too hard - if it happens it's a bonus, not some brilliant strategy. Besides, you can't defend if you declare riichi, and there's also the fact that it's still very early in the round. That said, if someone should discard 5p I'd definitely call it.

My next draw, however, changes my plans entirely. I draw a 5s. Greed and stupidity (maybe) makes me discard the 6p (if I draw a 3p I can still get pinfu). Good or bad, I'm not sure yet - it's a bit of a risky move.

drob guide 11 I'm now looking at a honitsu, pinfu, itsu hand - add in a possible iipeikou too. I'm not going to give up on this hand, so I declare riichi, despite the fact that my discard pond is SCREAMING "Honitsu! Beware!" and despite the fact that the tiles I'm waiting for, 36s, only have 2 each left. Still, this is too good to give up on, because I'd be looking at a baiman if I get it.

3 tiles before the end, North rons East for a tanyao worth all of 1,300 points. Bastard. I'm a little disappointed, but my hopes weren't exactly too high that it would happen (looking at the replay, 6s might actually have come out, but it's unlikely). Ah well, putting it in the words of Andre (Phantom of the Opera) "these things do happen." No matter, I'm down some points but it's nothing major and it's still early.

drob guide 12 This looks okay - I have a pair, some pesky honours, and a dora tile. It's not a perfect hand by no means, but it's my turn as East, so I'm going to go for as quick and dirty hands as possible in order to keep being East. Pinfu + dora looks like the quickest way for this. drob guide 13 Well, now what? In retrospect, I should probably have gotten rid of one of the 5p instead, but at this moment I instead opt to discard the 4s. drob guide 14 Well, curses. Here I am in tenpai but no yaku. I'm sitting on a pretty shitty hand, but I'm also East. Now here's the thing. Here's where I'm stupid. I declare riichi. It happens that I do that because I want to put some pressure on the other players - if it works they'll start folding instead. At times you run into people who don't care what you're doing but are playing some kind of single-player mahjong together with you, so they'll just plow ahead, ignoring the danger of dealing into a hand. Either way, the stick's been thrown! I have 3 outs, but maybe they'll be smart and fold instead? NOTE: This is actually really stupid and you should definitely NOT play like I did. TACOS: Chill, it's fine, yo drob guide 15 Aha! What to do in this situation? Well, normally I'm quite cautious when it comes to declaring kans, even closed ones. The chances of your opponents getting dora are too high, and then there's the ura-dora issue as well. However, I've declared riichi, my hand is closed, I just discarded a 4m which might help bring out a 7m, so I will indeed declare a closed kan - if only to put even more pressure on my opponents (or so I say, without knowing if it actually works). drob guide 16 Well, God blesses idiots and children I suppose. The final hand is riichi, menzen tsumo, dora 1. No ura-dora, but it still gets me some well-needed 7,800 points. drob guide 17 Did this work out? Why, no, it didn't. I'm pushing hard to keep dealership, but people are cautious about giving me the last 7p necessary. The hand ends in tenpai for me and South (who was waiting on 47p). The 1,500 points pushes me to 30,200 - 1st by 900 points. Or 1st by nothing, which is pretty much the same.

The next hand I manage to deal into a mangan - bye-bye East, bye-bye 1st place. In my defence though, I played like an idiot throughout the entire hand, wavering between different directions, and finally dealing a tile that was extremely risky just so I could stay in tenpai. Badly played, and I paid for it.

The hand after that I'm, obviously, frustrated over having lost my lead. I start playing risky - yes indeed, I got affected by the game. Don't let it happen to you. However, I luck out and start very close to toitoi, which is a horrible hand that nobody should go for (honestly, it's shit), and I take 5,200 points back.

And now I'm going to fast-forward until something happens that I can comment on - it's a long game, I should have gone with tonpuusen instead of a hanchan; the player to my left gets 12,000 points from the rest of us, another draw, I get some 11,300 points on a dual pair wait riichi (riichi, tsumo, 3 dora and 3 riichi sticks), together with the three dora I get points and am back in second place. When I'm east 1st place pulls off a nice 16,000 hand and puts me down 8,000 points (and the other two 4,000 each).

The thing is - while I could continue to write about each and every draw I made, and every decision I made, there's a thing called attention span. I'm at my end of the line here, and I'm the one writing it. It's already a wall of text, and I don't want to make it any longer. The rest of the game, the three hands where the guy to my right, East, plays a desperate game to get 2nd are not really interesting either, unfortunately. What happened was East - the guy to my right - played a hard game aiming to keep his dealership as long as possible (last hand of the game), he pulled off a 6,000 tsumo (riichi, dora, ura-dora), then this happened:
drob guide 19
Clearly I'm a master of defence (I couldn't even deal into two of them!). Either way, defence cost me 5,000 points, putting me ahead third place by 200.

Either way, the game ends shortly into the third hand when I'm north. Yes, I know, I'm lazy by skipping 5 hands entirely, but seriously, this stuff's pretty hard to write about to begin with; as I said, I could continue but it'd be terribly dry and boring. No, better then to leave you with the final, Saki-like score:
drob guide 18
Yeah, first place definitely was a force to be reckoned with. Some might say that the flow was with him, some the Force, and some that he played a damn good game. Looking at the replay, he played a solid game, had chance on his side a few times, but that's about it really. Instead of being a spoilsport, I'll say "Well Played, Sir!", take a sip of my brandy and discuss the latest haps on the east front.

As TACOS said in the beginning - we're not pros. Hell, at times I feel I'm still not sure how to play this game. I hope you've gained something by reading this though, even if it is how to NOT play.

(Maybe I should hold off on publishing this until after the European championship?) TACOS: I doubt they'll be reading this guide.